Is North Korea's Missile Launch a Danger to the United States?

In defiance of the United Nations, North Korea says it successfully launched a missile that sent a satellite into orbit .

South Koreans watch a TV news program about North Korea's rocket launch plans at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012. North Korea postponed the controversial launch of a long-range rocket.
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Early Wednesday North Korea launched a long-range missile in open defiance of the United States and the United Nations. While the launch itself was expected, the timing took the world by surprise because the isolated Asian nation wasn't expected to recover so quickly from technical difficulties that had caused a delay.

The launch was detected by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, known as NORAD, which said the missile shed its first stage over the Yellow Sea and its second into the Philippine Sea.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on North Korea.]

"Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit," NORAD said. "At no time was the missile or the resultant debris a threat to North America."

The Korean Central News Agency, North Korea's official news organization, said the rocket launched an earth observation satellite into orbit. The country's four previous attempts with multiple-stage rockets have all either exploded in midair or been unable to actually put a satellite into orbit.

Wednesday's launch violates United Nations sanctions against North Korea, and is likely to spur further punishment from the international body. The UN Security Council met Wednesday to discuss a response to the launch.

[ See Photos: North Korea Prepares for Rocket Launch.]

A statement from the National Security Council spokesman said the United States is committed to the security of its allies that neighbor North Korea, and said it will work with the international community to send the country the message that its actions have consequences:

North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in such provocative acts. Devoting scarce resources to the development of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons has not brought it security and acceptance by the international community—and never will. North Korea will only truly strengthen itself by abiding by international norms, living up to its commitments and international obligations, and working to feed its citizens, to educate its children, and to win the trust of its neighbors.

Experts say North Korea hasn't developed a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on its missile, which restricts its ability to aim a nuclear weapon at the United States. It is also unknown whether or not the country has the technology required to accurately aim such a weapon.

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should the United States Consider Military Action to Hinder Iran's Nuclear Program?]

Writing for U.S. News, RAND Corporation Senior International Policy Analyst Bruce Bennett said this launch will only bolster North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and may only be the beginning of turmoil in the region.

For many years, North Korea has used various forms of provocation to demonstrate regime power, hoping to divert attention from and thereby manage the regime's failures. Little surprise then that the North Korean leaders are preparing new provocations, such as this latest "satellite" launch, attempting to convey the appearance of regime success in some dimension, and thereby make Kim Jong-Un appear empowered.

Unfortunately, one or two minor provocations are unlikely to provide the political boost that the regime needs. We could therefore see a nuclear test follow soon after the launch (as in 2006 and 2009), or perhaps even new limited attacks (as in 2010).

What do you think? Is North Korea's missile launch a danger to the United States? Take the poll and comment below.

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